Red Alert

A world without nukes

Posted by on November 13th, 2009

Sometimes it is hard to imagine a world without nukes. I mean really, can you imagine the Americans, Russians and Chinese giving up their last nuclear warhead? Let alone the likes of India, Pakistan and Israel.

Imagining that world is about to get a little bit easier. Gareth Evans was in town recently and previewed the key proposals in the soon to be published report of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND).

I posted on the humanitarian work Evans, a former Australian foreign minister, has been doing in recent years. He also co-chairs the ICNND which was set up by the Australian and Japanese governments. Its job is to breathe new life into the nuclear disarmament agenda and build an international consensus in the lead up to next year’s conference to review the Non Proliferation Treaty.

The Commission’s report will set out a road map for nuclear abolition.  It breaks the task down into three phases:

Now to 2012 – strengthen the non-proliferation regime (designed to halt the spread of n-weapons), fix Iran and North Korea, get the US to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (Obama has promised to do this), move to set up a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East, get a fissile material cut-off treaty in place (controlling production of weapons grade plutonium and uranium), and get multilateral disarmament happening (negotiations between US and Russia are getting underway).  This first phase is designed to get momentum on a range of initiatives, build confidence and get some runs on the board.

2012-2025 – Assuming good progress in phase one, this next phase would aim to deliver big reductions in the stockpiles of nuclear weaponry through multilateral negotiations. There are currently 23,000 nuclear weapons in the world. Russia has 13,000, US has 9000, and the other six nuclear weapons states have about 1000 between them. The ICNND proposes cutting those stocks by more than 90%. And getting every nuclear weapon state to commit to a ‘no first use’ policy.

2025 – ? – Finally, down to zero. Evans is adamant it can be achieved but says the Commission is reluctant to suggest a deadline. There is so far to go between now and then. And getting there will require weening the world’s global military establishment off the psychology of nuclear deterrence.

In the mean time the election of President Obama has provided the best opportunity in a generation to get nuclear disarmament moving again. His speech in Prague in April was electrifying. There has also been a chorus of calls for action from governments, former politicians like Gareth Evans, and old war horses (most notably Kissinger, Perry, Schultz and Nunn who wrote an influential op ed in the Wall Street Journal in 2007).

The task of nuclear abolition can seem daunting but the case is unquestionable, stated here by the Canberra Commission in 1996:

So long as any state has nuclear weapons, others will want them. So long as any such weapons remain, it defies credibility that they will not one day be used, by accident, miscalculation or design. And any such use would be catastrophic for our world as we know it.

While he was in Wellington Evans met with Foreign Minister Murray McCully and Disarmament Minister Georgina Te Heuheu. He told a Wellington audience that in the past New Zealand had played a ‘tremendously important role”, and had been a “voice for sanity” and “policy adventurousness”.  He asked New Zealand to consider playing a leadership role in pushing for progress on the disarmament section of the Non Proliferation Treaty in the lead up to the treaty’s review in New York in May next year. I wonder if this Government will step up?

For more on this listen to Chris Laidlaw’s Sunday Morning interview with Gareth Evans.


6 Responses to “A world without nukes”

  1. Spud says:

    A test ban treaty sounds like a great idea :-D I hope lost of progress is made on becoming nuclear free in the next ten years :-D

  2. Falafulu Fisi says:

    I think that it is good that a few states keep some minimum number of nukes. Nukes prevent major wars and that’s fact. It would be a good idea that all nukes in the world, be completely eliminated (I am in favor of that), but we’re humans and human minds are autonomous thinking bio-entities, ie, one can always make a miscalculation, regardless of logic, reason and facts in front of him. Hitler, Saddam were good examples. Had both Hitler and the Allies had nukes at the same time, then WW2 wouldn’t have escalated to the scale that it was.

  3. Jeremy Harris says:

    I think the goals to 2025 are acheivable mainly due to the cost of building and maintaining the things and really why does a country need to kill another 10 times over..?

    But IMO economics will be the main driver, I have my suspicions the US has been given the hard word that their budget needs to be balanced in the next few years or else by the IMF, et al…

    Maybe I just can’t get my head around it but I can’t ever see the US and Russia dropping their stockpile below 500 – 1000…

  4. Phil Twyford says:

    Falafulu Fisi – Herre’s what Evans has to say about deterrence:

    It is hard to contest head-on the almost universally held view that the absence of great power conflict since 1945 must be at least in part attributed to the fear of nuclear war. On the face of it, nuclear weapons on the other side will always provide a formidable argument for caution, and it does seem that they generated a degree of mutual respect and careful handling between the US and USSR during the Cold War (and, for that matter, between India and Pakistan since 1998). That said, it is not clear that there is any evidence for the view that Soviet leaders, any more than their US counterparts, were determined to actually go to war at any particular time, and only deterred by the existence of the other’s nuclear weapons.

    And for all the careful handling, there were dozens of false alarms on both sides during the Cold War years: the fact that nuclear war did not erupt from technical malfunction or decisionmaker miscalculation should to an important degree be attributed to sheer dumb luck. Moreover, it would be quite wrong to say that nuclear weapons ushered in an age of peace elsewhere, for in many respects the Cold War years were very bloody indeed, and it is quite possible that nuclear deterrence, if it did work allowed more killing than it prevented during this period, in Vietnam and Afghanistan for a start.

  5. Phil Twyford says:

    Jeremy – I dont know whether that is true for the US. The scale of the US military is so vast I am not sure that maintaining and updatig a few thousand nuclear war heads is going to break the bank. On the other hand it is widely thought that the cost for Russia of maintaining their arsenal is a huge problem for them, and is one of the drivers getting them to the table.

  6. Jeremy Harris says:

    The US military budget was $636 billion last year IIRC… I’m guessing the maintanance cost of; the rocket launchers, fuel, nuclear weapons grade material, sites, staff, training etc runs in the tens of billions and who doesn’t want to save that..?

    But I do take your point…